Public Release:  Video captions improve comprehension, professor finds

A simple change -- turning on captions -- can make a big difference in the classroom

San Francisco State University

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IMAGE: This is SF State assistant professor of American Indian Studies Robert Keith Collins. view more

Credit: San Francisco State University

A simple change -- switching on captions -- can make a big difference when students watch educational videos, an SF State professor has discovered.

Robert Keith Collins, an assistant professor of American Indian studies, found that students' test scores and comprehension improved dramatically when captions were used while watching videos. The tool is often utilized for students with learning disabilities, but Collins says his results show captions can be beneficial to all students.

Collins developed the idea while he was a member of a faculty learning committee focused on ways to make the classroom more accessible to all students. During the first year of a two-year case study, he showed videos without captions to establish a baseline of student comprehension. Once that baseline was established, he turned captions on and began to see improvements. Those improvements continued into the second year of the study.

"Not only were students talking about how much having the captions helped them as they took notes, their test scores went up," Collins said. "During the baseline year, there were a lot of Cs. In the second years, they went from Cs, Ds and Fs to As, Bs and Cs. It was really significant improvement."

That improvement didn't just manifest itself in grades. Class discussions also became livelier and more detailed, with students recalling specific information shown in the videos such as names of people and places.

"We're living in an age where our students are so distracted by technology that they sometimes forget where they should focus their attention when engaged with technology or media," he said. "Turning on captions seems to enable students to focus on specific information."

The study was unique, Collins added, in that it explored captions' impact broadly, as opposed to other studies that examined their effect solely on students with learning disabilities.

The study has particularly important implications for his academic field, American Indian studies, he said. Addressing the needs of Native American students with learning disabilities has recently come into greater focus at the same time as the field is beginning to move beyond the impacts of colonialism on Native American students and toward asking more specifically what those students need in higher education.

The results of Collins' case study were published Aug. 9 in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal in the article "Using Captions to Reduce Barriers to Native American Student Success." In addition to contributing the article, Collins also guest edited this edition of the journal, which was focused on reducing barriers to Native American student learning.

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The study begun in 2007 as part of Collins' participation with the Ensuring Access through Collaboration and Technology -- Faculty Learning Committee (EnACT -- FLC) at SF State, funded through EnACT-PTD (Ensuring Access Through Collaboration and Technology - Partnerships, Technology, and Dissemination) at Sonoma State University on a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls nearly 30,000 students each year and offers nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies. The University's more than 219,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

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